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Students flock to Pasco from all over the state. They came to play

Students participate in the 2018 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship at the TRAC Saturday. The event drew more than 1,200 students from across the state.
Students participate in the 2018 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship at the TRAC Saturday. The event drew more than 1,200 students from across the state. Tri-City Herald

It's 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday, and the atmosphere at TRAC is a little eerie.

More than 1,200 elementary school students fill the venue, but the arena is nearly silent.

For many of these students, this day is the culmination of months of practice, multiple competitions and a love of one of the oldest board games — chess.

The 2018 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship brought students from every corner of the state to Pasco for a day of chess competition.

Among the competitors are 17 from James McGee Elementary School's chess club.

Cari Naylor, a fifth grade teacher at McGee, has seen the team grow from 35 students to more than 100 in the past six years. Those students have learned a combination of analytical skills and life lessons that they will take forward with them.

"It teaches kids to be graceful winners and losers. It teaches them to stick to it no matter what," she said.

Pasco is generally well-represented at the event, fielding more than 100 students at the state tourney.

This is the third time in the past 12 years Pasco hosted the elementary championships. To qualify for the competition, the students needed to win at least three games or win two and draw in two in a previous tournament.

Another lesson is how to learn from their mistakes. Elliot Neff, a National Chess Master and CEO of Chess4Life, led a team of players who reviewed students games with them learn where their mistakes were.

Neff founded the Bellevue-based chess academy in 2006 and spent the past 18 years leading a team of instructors. He has personally coached more than 10,000 students. The Pasco School District uses tools from his academy to teach students.

He has seen first-hand how the game benefits students, including his own 4-year-old son who was playing in Saturday's event.

"Playing chess helps build their memory, their math skills, their focus. It helps build grit," Neff said. "What we teach is that you can win, or you can draw, or you can learn. There is even preschool projects underway right now."

Another benefit is the appeal of the game for students of any physical ability, and it attracts a broad spectrum of children.

In his time of teaching students, Neff has seen several of them move into science, technology, engineering and math careers (STEM), including computer science, robotics and medical fields.

But for many of the students at Saturday's event, it was a chance to have fun and compete. Jason and Vrana Lim brought their four children from Bellingham. Their children, the parents said, just like playing.

"We never have to force them to play chess," he said. "I think it's a great sport of them."

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402 Twitter: @cameroncprobert
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